by Sarah Kourkoulis

Chapter One

She sat with her back to the beach house, writing swiftly, without pause. A storm was brewing off the coast, and the clouds had already begun to gather, but it was lost on the girl. For her, all that mattered was the condition of her heart, and the pain from that was almost more than she could bear.

“I hadn’t meant for this to happen,” she wrote. “This isn’t the way I had planned it. I never came out here with the thought that I would be writing to tell you I was pregnant. That’s not at all what I had in mind. But now that I am, I don’t know what to do. The plans I made hadn’t included this. If there is anything, any advice you could give me, I’d appreciate it.” She stopped then. That last line didn’t belong. It seemed a little late to be asking advice. It was done. She’d gone against everything she’d ever been taught in even sleeping with the boy, but to ask for advice now seemed terribly weak. She’d never been weak before, and she didn’t take it well.

Tearing up the letter, she let the bits travel on the wind that was picking up. Drops began to fall from the sky, just a few at a time, until soon, she found herself in a downpour. She picked up her pen and notebook, turning to go back toward the beach house, when she hesitated. She really couldn’t face going back in there. Those walls, those rooms, weren’t the same without him, and now, in this storm, it was the last place she wanted to be. She made her way back to the sandy beach, the rain driving itself into her cotton dress. She left her things beside her shoes, and began walking the shoreline, watching the waves collapse and foam in the distance.

This was the real reason she’d come to Maine. It wasn’t really to go to school, although that was the excuse she’d used for her parents. What drew her, what had always drawn her, was the sea. As far back as she could remember, the ocean had been her place of peace. Summer trips made to the seashore had been the highlight of her colorless childhood. She’d rarely been allowed to actually go into the sea, since her mother’s terrible fear of water had restrained her, but she’d sit on the porch of their rented cottage and watch the waves. The incredible rhythm had always been able to calm her troubled young soul. She’ d time them, and always, no matter what the weather was, there would be eight waves per minute. And her heart would be at rest in the knowledge that she could always count on the sea to be constant.

The wind began to blow even faster, whipping her dress around her, and completely undoing her hair. She barely noticed, her eyes focused on the sea. It was almost boiling, as the water met the rain. God, it felt good to just be here. Nobody else to answer to, no one else to deal with. Just this.

She stayed there for hours as the storm raged around her. Somehow, she found comfort in it, because it was so much louder than the storm within her. She couldn’t even hear the questions that she asked herself, so she felt as though she were not responsible for answering. Not yet anyway. All things would come in time. Of this she was sure. Somehow she’d find her way out of this mess. Answers would come. She needed only to wait.

The next morning, she finally made her way to her own bed. She fell in exhaustion on the blankets, and fell asleep almost immediately. She was wet and cold and hungry and tired, so she slept, and waited for everything else until she’d have the strength to deal with it.

She awoke sometime in the afternoon. A calm breeze played with the curtains, sending in the briny smell of the sea. Her hunger had awakened her, and she made her way to the kitchen, looking for anything. There wasn’t much. There never was. She hadn’t been much for shopping, usually going out with friends, or eating at the school. She managed to find some crackers and a can of soup, and later, over her hastily made lunch, she began to plan. Things would have to change. This way of life couldn’t last. Not with a little one on the way.

She drew her knees to her chest and rested her head on them. There wasn’t a whole lot she could count on. Her parents’ financial support, she was sure, would end when they found out about her pregnancy. They weren’t particularly gracious, not when they felt wronged, and she knew that this would be the case here. The beach house had been left to her in her uncle’s will, and it was her’s, free and clear. That was comforting.

Her next thought was school. Her tuition had been paid for this year by her parents, and that year was coming to an end. After that, she would have to manage on her own. There was the matter of food, also. Could she manage to work and go to school, and raise a child on her own? She shook her head. “There’s no way. Something will have to give.”

Adoption. It was a viable solution. She could simply give the baby away. Surely there were people out there who could do a better job of raising her child than she could. She was barely nineteen, and without any real financial support. Was it fair to raise a child in that kind of environment? And without a father? He’d left her, after all, with no intention of ever returning. Somehow, though, she knew that that wasn’t the way she should go. Her heart wanted this baby. Odd, since she had never really thought of herself as a mother. Her own family had been so screwed up that she’d sworn she’d never have one. And now, here she was, mother and baby.

Abortion had never entered her mind. That was strange too, since it had always been portrayed as an out. Still, it had never seemed right to her. Why should one person decide that another had no chance at life, simply because she’d made a mistake? It was no different than killing anyone else, in her mind, so she’d rejected the idea while still in high school. And now, she never even considered it.

She cleared away the bowl and crumbs, lighting the lantern as she worked. The house had been wired back in the sixties, but she had always preferred the look of the oil lamps. It was getting dark outside, and she knew that she still hadn’t really come to any conclusions. Her classes started again on Monday, and by then, she wanted her decisions solidified.

Although she’d slept for much of the day, exhaustion crept up again in the evening. Tomorrow was Sunday, and while she’d forgotten about it in the last year, she knew that many people went to church. The idea caused her to tremble. Her own parents would be going, like they always did, and if they knew what terrible sin their daughter had committed, they would forbid her to stain the church by attending. Strange that she’d never felt their condemnation so heavily before. Her college life had been filled with doing what she wanted with no thought to how it would affect her parents. After all, they were thousands of miles away, so what did they care? But, by having sex, she had done it. She had made a decision that would affect them drastically. And now, she felt the weight of all those other choices she’d made. What if they heard about all of those? Her grades had always been good, and she’d never gotten in real trouble, so there was no need to tell them any more than what she wanted them to know. Would she have to make a clean confession? Would they ever speak to her again?

She lay awake for awhile, thoughts racing through her head, colliding again and again. Tomorrow. What would she do on Sunday? And she fell asleep at last with that thought.

Sunlight streamed into her room the next morning, and she woke up, feeling again that heaviness on her soul. She dressed, taking pains with her appearance that she’d neglected the last few days. She knew she couldn’t stay here again, alone with the questions that hadn’t any answers yet, but she wasn’t sure where she’d go. She left anyway, taking along the money that was left from her folks’ last check, and made her way down the foot path that led to the road.

She didn’t own a car, but the house was only a matter of minutes from town. If she’d ever needed to go to the city, there were always groups of her friends who were driving there. She walked along the side of the road now, enjoying the sunshine and the sound of the gulls overhead. The season was coming on, and she noticed the number of out-of-state cars parked in other beach houses. They were all strangers to her, people who would come for a few weeks or maybe a few months, but would leave when the weather got to be too cold. They were here because they liked the beach, which was profoundly different from loving the sea. They didn’t like the storms or the windy days. They would rather play in the water or sunbathe on the sand. In the past, she had always been a bit frustrated with their attitude, maybe because it was so much like her parents. While her mother hated going into the water, she liked looking at it. She liked to sunbathe, and despised the cloudy days, when she was forced to look for her entertainment elsewhere. “Why must we always come here?” she would complain. “There are so many nicer beaches down south. Why do you always insist on staying to the north?” And then an argument would begin between her parents, her father insisting that they didn’t have the money to go south, and couldn’t she see that, and her mother becoming louder and louder in her assertions that the cold was doing more harm then the sea air was doing good.

In those times, the girl would slip out onto the beach, and find a place far enough away so that she couldn’t hear them anymore. She’d stay there for awhile, then go back toward the cottage, knowing that if she was gone too long, they would notice and punish her for running away. It was an insane cycle, and had never done any good, except cause her to have a wonderful appreciation for the sea.

Now, as she walked toward town, she realized that she was no longer irritated by these season people. Let them take whatever enjoyment they could out of the beach. It made no difference to her. There were more important things on her mind.

She found a little cafe, one that she’d passed over many times before in favor of classier places, where she and her friends would be recognized. Today, she just wanted to remain a stranger, and as she sat at a table in the corner, she knew that she’d chosen the perfect place to do that.

She ordered a coffee, and a small breakfast, then sat with the mug in her hands, watching the locals drift in. She hadn’t thought of it before, but her uncle must have known these people. After all, he’d lived here for the last ten years of his life. He must have had a life that included some of these folks.

As she waited for her meal, she realized that this was it for her. She and her child were going to have to have roots, and why not here? There was nowhere else that she could go, and she didn’t want to either. Once school was finished for the year, she knew that she’d need to find work, and build a life for herself.

Her education consisted of four years of high school, and one year of college, majoring in Liberal Arts. There wasn’t a whole lot of marketable talent there. She was young, and she learned quickly, but that’s not a lot to put on a resume. Once again, she felt her options weighing on her. What exactly was she qualified to do? Jobs with little or no skills required came to mind: waitress, receptionist, store clerk. It wasn’t much, and in such a small town, she wasn’t sure what kind of market she was looking at. Did anyone even need help?

Looking around the small cafe, she studied the other customers. Was there anyone here who could possibly help her? She noticed several old men in one corner, talking loudly, and laughing about old times. It was hard to know if they would be helpful or not. It was then that her waitress came back to clear her plate. “Excuse me, ma’am, but who are those gentlemen in the corner?” she asked.

The waitress shook her head slightly. “Oh, just a group of old fellas who have nothing to do but come here. Don’t let them bother you, dear. They don’t mean any harm.”

“No, no. They’re no bother. I was simply wondering if they...well, what I mean is, I’m looking for work, and I didn’t know if those folks would know of anything around here.”

The waitress grew thoughtful, studying her. “Funny you should say that. Old Doc Henry mentioned just yesterday that he was looking for someone to come clean for him, maybe do some shopping. Can’t remember the details. He’s a dear. Wife died four years ago, and he’s finding it harder to manage without her. You interested in that sort of thing, or you looking for something more in an office?”

She shook her head. “Right now, I think I’m interested in anything. I don’t know exactly...well, I’m just checking things out before I decide. “

“You want me to talk to him for you? Maybe get him to talk to you?”

“Sure, that would be great.” She said it before she even thought it through. It just seemed like a good idea, the thing to do. “My name is Nathalie. Nathalie Verone.” She held out her hand, and the waitress took it.

“I’m Gina.” She grinned. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

Nathalie left soon after, her feet already feeling lighter. She had hope, suddenly. That thought came with a shock. Had she actually been hopeless? She didn’t think that she’d ever begun to despair. She had tried to just think things through, remembering that it will always work out in the end. Even when he’d left, and when she had seen the results of her pregnancy test, she hadn’t really despaired. She just kept doing, kept on breathing and thinking.

The more she thought about it, the more she realized that even though she hadn’t lost hope, she had been getting overwhelmed. She’d felt as though she were about to burst from the pressures she could see coming, the intensity she was anticipating in the next few months. And now, with the possibility, however far it seemed, of employment, she felt as though a ray of light had passed into this storm she’d been in.

She spent the rest of the day in town, walking down side streets, and into small shops, dodging kids on bicycles, and avoiding barking dogs on chains. For the first time since she arrived nine months ago, she made an effort to get to know this town that she lived in.

She bought an ice cream in the afternoon, and ate it on the walk home. She needed something cheerful before she could accomplish the grim task before her, and the ice cream seemed the easiest and cheapest way to get it. Because today she must write to her parents. There was no more delaying it.

She’d known for a week that it must be done, ever since she’d learned the truth. There seemed no point in putting it off any longer. Of all the things she was sure they would accuse her of, she didn’t want one to be that she had hidden it from them. She had hidden too much already. Anymore, and her chances of gaining acceptance from them would be completely lost.

When she reached the house, she found her notebook, now dried and wrinkled from that day in the storm. Still, it would do. She went out to the back porch, facing the ocean, and watched the sunset from her favorite rocking chair. She breathed deeply as the sun slipped behind the sea, lit the hurricane lantern on the table next to her, and began to write once again.

She didn’t make excuses for her actions. She’d learned at a young age that excuses just made the punishment last longer. She simply explained what had happened, and also what she intended to do about it. She did not ask for any money or for any advice, only for their forgiveness, and in doing so, knew that she was asking for what they would most loathe to give.

It was all said in a page and a half, and she signed it and addressed the envelope. She didn’t have a stamp, but that could be bought tomorrow, before school, and mailed out that day. She counted it out. That would mean that they would receive the news on Thursday. And she began to dread Thursday.

Chapter Two

She managed to pay attention through her classes the next day, but it all seemed terribly unreal. She didn’t know what she would tell her friends, or if she even wanted to tell them. They had known that she’d had a boyfriend, and a few of them had met him, but in terms of real time, the two of them had only been together for about a month. It hadn’t been her first relationship, but it had been her first time. She’d never slept with anyone but him, and looking back, she wasn’t entirely sure why she had even then. He’d dropped the line about loving her, and although there was a voice screaming that he couldn’t be trusted, she hadn’t wanted to listen. She’d plowed ahead, partly in rebellion to her parents, mostly to prove something to herself: that she was capable of making her own decisions, that she didn’t have to live up to someone else’s expectations.

The irony wasn’t lost on her. She was now the only one who could make her decisions, and there was no one else who had any expectations of her. He’d packed up and moved sometime last week, with no word where he would be, and by the end of the week, she knew she was going to have his baby.

They say hindsight is 20/20, but she couldn’t see it. She still didn’t know why they’d broken up, only that he wasn’t happy. He’d lived at the beach house for two weeks, and then, he left. It was confusing, and it hurt, mostly because she realized that she really had meant nothing to him. He’d used her, and when he had her doing whatever he wanted, he became bored, and left.

By the end of the day, when her friends mentioned going to a few of the local bars, and did she want to go with them, she knew that it was over for her. She’d get through the next few weeks, pass her finals, and then that was it. These kids she went to college with were just that...kids. She’d been just like them two weeks ago, but she would never be like them again. And so she knew that she could not tell them.

Thursday finally came, and with it, the pit in her stomach became worse. She had not experienced morning sickness, but that morning she felt nauseous. There was no telling what herparents’ reaction would be. The beach house, like many of the houses along the coast, did not have a phone, but she knew that wouldn’t stop them if they wanted to find her.

Nothing happened Thursday or Friday. Saturday came, and she made her way back into town. There was still the matter of a job to clear up. She returned to the cafe for breakfast, and noticed the same waittress there. Gina came over and told her that if she was interested, Doc Henry would like to meet her. She gave her his address, then left with her order.

It wasn’t until later that afternoon that Nathalie worked up the courage to go to Doc’s house and see him. Although this was something that she really wanted, it was still a bit terrifying. The waitress had called him a dear, but maybe...Finally, she’d put aside those thoughts, and made her way to his place.

The house wasn’t far from her own, a five minute walk, but no more. It was a bit further from the sea, but still with a glorious view. The homes on this road were either handed down from generation to generation, or they were sold for a mint. From the look of this house, it had been in the family for years.

She knocked at the front door, but there was no answer. On a whim, she went around to the back porch. Sure enough, she saw an old man sitting on the porch swing, holding some kind of a dog. He spotted her, and stood up to receive her company.

“Well, hello miss. You wouldn’t happen to be Miss Verone would you?” She nodded. “Oh, good. I’ve been looking forward to meeting you all day. Gina told me a bit about you, and you sounded just like someone I’d want to meet. Have a seat, miss, have a seat. Don’t mind Oliver, he’s just greeting you the only way he can. “

The dog, evidently Oliver, was circling her, sniffing, and making very odd, deep throated noises. “He won’t bite, will he?” She was a little concerned about this. She’d never been terribly fond of dogs.

“Oh, my dear, no. Oliver is a very friendly sort of creature. He’s a pug, miss, one of the friendliest dogs around. He does have a bit of a hard time breathing. His nose, as you can see, is, well, smashed into his face. That makes a difference to his respiratory system.”

“Well what happened? Did a car hit him?” The idea of something doing that to a dog was just cruel, she thought.

At that, Doc began to chuckle. “Miss Verone...Miss Verone, Oliver was born that way. All pugs have faces like that. God’s little clowns, some say. Oliver is show quality. In fact, my wife, Lucy, did show him, and won some pretty fancy ribbons. He’s a first rate dog.”

Nathalie considered that for a moment, and then looked at the old man. He seemed genuinely proud of this dog, and for some reason, she didn’t want to disappoint him in any way. At that instant, she made her decision.

“Yes, sir, he does seem to be.”

Doc motioned her to sit down on the seat next to him. For a time, there was silence as the swing rocked back and forth. She wasn’t sure exactly what to do or say, but since he was her potential employer, she was just going to let him lead the conversation. Eventually, the quiet broke.

“I have been dreading the time when I would need to do this, hire someone,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper. “When Lucy died, it hurt desperately, but I was determined that I would take care of myself. I just didn’t want anyone else in her kitchen, using her pans, washing her dishes, setting her table. It’s been four years now, and I’m starting to wind down. I’m seventy-five, and although I still feel pretty good, I have my bad days. “

There was another length of silence before he began again. “Miss Verone, I need someone to help me three days a week. I understand that these days, the going rate is between ten and fifteen dollars an hour, so I was considering thirteen. The job would consist of cleaning, grocery shopping, and perhaps cooking, if I need it. I’m afraid I’m really asking for a part-time caregiver. You barely know me, so I completely understand if these arrangements aren’t what you have in mind.”

Nathalie never took her eyes off the water, her voice matching his in it’s softness. “Sir, I would very much appreciate working here. My options are very small right now...and I really do need this job. If you think you want to try this arrangement for a while, you know, see how it works, I would like that.”

Doc turned slightly toward her, and extended his hand. She took his hand, her eyes meeting his, and in that instant, knew that she was accepted. “Miss Verone, it would be a pleasure.”

They spent the next hour discussing the specifics of the job, and at the end, decided that she would begin work the week after her finals. That was three weeks away, and in the meantime, Doc invited her over as often as she could come. “It will be a wonderful time to get to know one another,” he said, and Nathalie found comfort in this.

She left as the sun was setting, and in the glow, considered all that had happened. True, she still hadn’t heard from her parents, but it was possible that she had just made a good and trustworthy friend. While that could never replace her own parents, it made a piece of her heart whole again. For a time, she allowed that sense of wholeness place, without doubting it.

She made herself dinner, using a few of the fresh ingredients she’d picked up over the last week. It felt good to make a meal for herself, knowing how it all came together, putting the effort into creating something. Rarely in her life had she been allowed that freedom. As a child, everything was always done for her, in the conviction that she wouldn’t be able to do it well enough, or fast enough. In moving to Maine, that had begun to change. Responsibility became reality, and cleaning was no longer a chore, but a necessity. She’d decided not to have any room mates, determined to enjoy her solitude and freedom. So she had learned in private. Watching her mother all those years had taught her much, even if she’d never been allowed to put it into practice. And so the home that she’d made for herself was neat and clean, the meal that she ate was good and nutritious.

Concern clouded her evening. There still was no word from her parents. Had her letter been lost? Were they actually going to be flying out here to confront her to her face? Had they decided to respond in kind, and a letter would yet arrive for her? So many questions again. It was disheartening. Just when one question had found an answer, a dozen more came to take it’s place.

She kept to her house the rest of the weekend, studying for her exams, walking along the beach, trying anything to stay busy so that anxiety wouldn’t consume her. When Monday finally came, she walked to town first, determined to know the truth as soon as possible. But no letter waited for her. She asked the clerk when the mail came in, and was informed that the day’s mail arrived at four-thirty in the morning. Disheartened and confused, she took the bus to school, and went through the day mechanically.

A note was delivered by courier in the middle of her last class, asking that she stop by the Business Office. Her heart grew terribly heavy, and she found it difficult to breathe. Not another word from her professor did she hear during the next hour, leaving as soon as the class was dismissed. She hurried to the office, and was greeted by the cool, smiling face of the receptionist. She gave her name, and was told that the financial advisor would be with her in a moment, would she mind taking a seat and waiting.

An eternity passed before she was summoned into the next room, where her fate was to be decided. The plaque on the desk had the name Stephen J. Timons, and Nathalie focused on that while the man finished rustling through some papers on his desk.

“Ahem. Miss Verone. Yes, I’m glad you were able to come.” Stephen J. Timons, leaning back in his chair and entwining his fingers together, didn’t appear to be in any hurry to explain why she was asked to be here. “How have your classes been going? Are you enjoying your first year? Everything all right?”

Nathalie took her eyes off the plaque and looked at the odd man in front of her. He seemed to possess a lot of nervous energy, fidgeting with his hands too much. Frankly, she had enought nervous energy right now without dealing with his also. “Sir, why did you wish to see me? Surely, with less than three weeks left to the year, this is not the reason.”

“Ah, yes. Well, we have been notified that, ah...well, it has come to our attention...That is, you see, your parents have...How do I say this tactfully? No more money will be provided for your education by your parents. And I wanted to know if you would be enrolling here next year. Yes, that is it.” He sat back, relieved at finally having said what he’d dreaded since he’d received the letter that morning.

Nathalie sat back, hurt and betrayal playing on her face and heart. All of the scenarios that she’d thought about her parents’ reaction to her news had never included this. She’d known that they would despise her for what she’d done, that they would never forgive her, but never had she thought that she would be cut off, and they would not communicate with her in any way. They had somehow contacted the school about the money, but they had made no attempt whatsoever to contact her.

Stephen J. Timons seemed to grow even more nervous as the silence lengthened. This girl was obviously as shocked as he’d been, and he had no idea what to do. He began fidgeting once more, until finally, she focused on him again.

“I will finish the rest of the year, but I won’t be coming back. Was that all that you needed me for?” She moved as though preparing to leave, and in his nervousness, all words fled from his mouth. He’d originally intended to go over financial plans that would allow her to stay for the rest of her four years, loans that could be applied for, jobs on-campus that would help lighten the load. But now, with her face set like granite, he found himself nodding, saying “Yes, that’s all, Miss Verone,” and he watched her walk out of his office.

Nathalie left relieved to a point. She’d expected the revoking of her funds, although the way it was done was heartbreaking. Still, at least now she knew her future. She had a job, albeit one that was part-time in nature, but her expenses were light. She had no car, and her home was paid for. Water, electricity and food were really the only things she needed, and she was pretty sure that her pay would cover those. She wouldn’t have a lot, but she’d have enough, and enough sounded pretty good right now.

Later that afternoon, she made her way to Doc’s house. Although she’d never been at all close to her parents, the way that they had treated her, the fact that they so despised her, caused a loneliness she wasn’t accustomed to, and staying home wasn’t comfortable. Memories still haunted the walls, and this fresh heart ache was too much to carry alone.

She found him on the swing again, and was greeted by Oliver, who was barely able to hold in his excitement. Doc welcomed her like an old friend, and it felt good to be accepted. He didn’t know a whole lot about her, but he seemed willing to give her a chance. As he went into the house to get her some iced tea, she reflected on what he must have been like as a father. She asked him that when he returned.

He handed her the glass, and chuckled as he sat down again on the swing. “Oh Miss Verone, I’m afraid I made some terrible mistakes when I was first a father. “ He shook his head, staring out at the ocean. “So many things that seemed so important at the time, that I got so angry over, and now I look back, and I realize-they don’t mean a thing. Why do you ask?”

Nathalie curled up in her wicker chair, cradling her tea in her hands. “Oh, I don’t know. You just seem like you’d be nice to talk to, understanding. I was just wondering.”

He nodded. “I had to learn that the hard way. My wife and I had three children, all daughters. Beautiful girls. They took after their mother a lot, but boy, in a lot of ways, I saw myself, and frankly, that scared me. You see, I remembered the things I had done, the mistakes I’d made, and I so desperately didn’t want them to make the same ones. I was very hard on the older two. Didn’t listen to their hearts, only judged their actions. It made it very difficult for them to grow up. By the youngest, I had learned some things. Jackie and Debbie thought I was too easy on their little sister, but I knew now that all I could really do was teach her what was right and then let her choose. That’s what our heavenly Father does for us. How could I expect to do more than that?”

Nathalie barely caught that reference to God. It had slipped in there so easily that it was pretty shocking. Her folks had always prefaced anything about God with a stern warning about eternal damnation and her barely redeemable soul. To have Him referred to as “our heavenly Father” was unusual.

“Did you ever...say something to one of your daughters that you really regretted later?” She hadn’t meant to be vague, but she couldn’t say any more without giving away her whole life, it seemed.

Doc handled it well, flowing right with her. “Every parent does and says things that that they later regret. Things that are done in the heat of anger, words said that are mean-spirited and judgmental. They almost always regret them, but oftentimes, they don’t mend the hurt by going back to their child and asking forgiveness. For some reason, being wrong and admitting it is viewed as a weakness, some sort of breach in their authority, like their children won’t respect them anymore. That’s just not true. Humility is always a good thing.”

She nodded, mostly as a way to show that she understood what he was saying. She considered it for a while, in light of her own situation. Would her parents regret what they had done, cutting off their communication with her and her baby? She wasn’t at all sure. In all her life, she’d never seen them regret anything they’d done.

She ran over various scenes from her childhood in her mind, times when words had been said in the heat of anger, or when actions were taken that hurt and wounded her terribly. Sometimes the pain was deliberate, their way of punishing her for her sins, but sometimes it seemed more like it was a side effect of the way that they lived their lives, desperately trying to be right in everything they did. Regret had played no part of her parents’ actions, that she could remember.

“What if the parents don’t ever regret anything they’ve done? I mean, what if all they can do is hurt their child and that’s all?” Her voice shook with betrayal and anger. Would she forever have to carry those wounds, waiting for her parents to ask her forgiveness?

Doc leaned forward a little, looking intently at her face. “Miss Verone, God provides a way out of that.”

That wasn’t what she wanted to hear. She knew how God provided ways out. She’d been taught that growing up. He only heard the prayers of the righteous, the ones who didn’t sin, who were pure of heart and good. He helped those who helped themselves. The others, the wicked and the idle, were cast into the sea of fire, with weeping and gnashing of teeth. Oh yes, she knew that God provided ways out, but only if you were good enough. His way out consisted of doing good things. And she hadn’t done anything good for a long time.

Doc watched the expression on her face harden. He didn’t know what this young woman had gone through, but he knew a broken heart when he saw one. His spirit cried out within him, begging his God to have mercy on this precious little one. The look she wore told him that she wasn’t accepting God as a solution to her problems, and that perhaps in some way, she blamed Him. Either way, Doc became determined to show Miss Verone that her Father in heaven loved her dearly.

He turned the conversation to other things, inquiring about her house, and her uncle. He’d known Rudy a bit before he’d died, and they swapped stories back and forth for a while. As evening approached, Nathalie moved as though to return home, but Doc asked that she stay for dinner. It was simple, he told her, but he would love the company. She was glad to oblige him.

When she finally left in the late evening, she walked home with a warm feeling inside. The time had gone pretty quickly, and it had been fun. Something inside of her that had been hungry for a long time was now full, and with that thought, she readied herself for bed, and fell asleep almost immediately.

Chapter Three

The rest of the week went quickly. Nathalie spent much of her time studying. Even though she knew that she wouldn’t ever finish college, it was still important to her somehow that she finish this year well. It justified her parents’ money in a way, her last link to them, her way of saying that she was still there, working hard at her studies, trying her best to do the right thing. No other tests in her life had ever meant as much as these finals did now.

Her spare time was spent at Doc’s house. She listened to his stories about his daughters and his wife, and he showed her some of the old photo albums. Hearing him talk, she began to appreciate him. It was wonderful to hear about his past because it made him more of a person to her. He wasn’t just a man that she would be working for, but he was becoming a dear friend that she would be caring for. The difference between the two ideas was incredible.

No letter arrived from her folks, and she stopped expecting one. They had made their position perfectly clear, and she knew that they wouldn’t back down. Maybe it was that thing that Doc had been talking about, humility, but she was positive that her parents would not be heard from again.

The wind began to pick up as she walked the beach at her house. She’d taken a break from her studies, and the afternoon sun was on her back. The house was in a wonderful spot, its property extending several hundred feet on either side. Rudy had bought it fifteen years back, using it for summers only for the first five years, then moving up permanently for the next ten. He’d made his fortune in a company that made insulation boards for enormous engines in industrial plants, and had never been a favorite with her parents. They had always treated him as though he had some terrible disease, Mammon, and were polite when they had to see him, but they had never sought him out.

Nathalie, however, had always adored him. She’d never understood her parents’ dislike for him, but then there was a lot about her parents she’d never understood. He had been rather young when he’d died, only fifty-two, and to the end, he was a bachelor. His money, he’d put in a trust fund for his college alma-mater, and his house, he’d given to the only child of his only sister. Perhaps he’d known that she would need to have a place of her own, away from her folks.

She sat on the beach, absorbing the sounds and smell of the ocean. She’d considered going over to see Doc tonight, but she decided that she needed some time to think. School was very nearly over, with less than two weeks till the end of the term, and there was still the matter of him to clear up.

She forced herself to use his name: Jason. She’d met him one night at a bar in the city. She’d gone there with two of her friends, and they’d gotten pretty wasted. She remembered how kind he’d been, offering to drive them back to the dorm, and then taking her home. He’d asked her for her number, and she’d given him the one at the dorm, never believing that he’d really call her. He had though, the next day, and they went out that night. They went out every night that week, and then he told her that she was it. She was what he had spent his life looking for. She had looked into his eyes, so sincere, and she decided. She’d give him everything that she’d held back from the others. Jason would be the one.

They spent that next week in the throes of love, and had quickly decided that they couldn’t live without each other. He moved his few things into the beach house, and there proceeded to take all of her. Not only did he demand her sexually, but he also began to demand her time, her money, her friends. The charming, handsome man who had told her that she was everything he wanted now set out to take it. She’d wrestled in confusion, trying to reconcile this man to the one she’d fallen in love with. She conceded to him everything, and then, one morning, found that he’d left in the middle of the night. He left a short note telling her that it wouldn’t work, and not to expect him back, and just three days later, she discovered she was pregnant.

She stared out at the waves falling into each other, and knew that she would have to tell Doc. Not everything, she was sure, but she would have to tell him that she was pregnant. She hoped desperately that he wouldn’t be disappointed in her, that she wouldn’t lose him as a friend. But her track record didn’t offer much hope. Everyone that she’d ever trusted had let her down somehow. She wasn’t sure how much more her heart could take.

She went to his house the next afternoon, skipping her studies one day. They sat on the porch, sipping iced tea, with Oliver curled up on the swing snoring. The little dog with the funny face had wormed his way into Nathalie’s heart, and she always enjoyed watching him. Today, she smiled at his snores, but then her face grew serious. It was time to talk.

“Doc, I haven’t told you much about me, have I?” It seemed a bit lame, but at least it was a start.

“No, you haven’t, but I figured that you had your reasons. Would you like to tell me a bit now?”

She nodded, taking a deep breath. “I took this job because I needed something immediate, something close to home. This past year, I’ve been attending college full-time, but it was paid for by my folks. However, they won’t be paying for it anymore, because I got pregnant.” She closed her eyes for a moment, thankful it was over. When she opened them to look at Doc, she saw his eyes full of concern.

“Oh my dear. Have they cut you off entirely?”

She nodded.

He shook his head. “I understand why you waited to tell me. But have you been to see a doctor? It’s so important to take care of yourself in the first trimester. That’s when much of the baby is being formed. Oh yes, you must see a doctor.”

Nathalie smiled, even as tears began to form. She should have known he’d be kind. She shouldn’t have doubted him.

Doc continued, “If money is an issue for you, don’t worry about it. There are several doctors in town who owe me a favor or two, so we will get you all set, Miss Verone. Now tell me-”
For the first time, she interrupted him. “Doc, please call me Nathalie. I would really like that.”

He smiled at her. He’d waited for her to say that, knowing that when she did, she’d look at him as a friend, and perhaps trust him a little more. Her revelation hadn’t shocked him. Hearing how her parents had treated her hurt his heart terribly, but he understood her a little better now.

“All right Nathalie. Now, would you mind telling me how far along you are?”

“I believe I’m four to five weeks along. I don’t know exactly.”

“Well, my dear, if you would allow me to get you an appointment with a doctor, we will have you all checked and ready to go. I have a few books here that may interest you, if you decide that you want to read up on it.” He sat back on the swing, the dog putting his head on his lap, and sighing loudly. Nathalie chuckled. Doc stroked his head, and said, “Thank you for telling me, Nathalie. I’m sure that must have been a little frightening for you.”

She smiled back at him. “It was, but there was no reason for that. Thank you Doc.”

The rest of the evening was spent with much excitement. She’d been laboring under such an incredible sense of guilt and responsibility that she’d forgotten that there was joy in her pregnancy. When Doc asked if she had any ideas for names yet, she shook her head.

“To be honest, I haven’t given it any thought at all. Everything happened so suddenly. My boyfriend left me the week I found out, so I’ve been dealing with a lot.”

“Yes, that is quite a bit. Nathalie, if there is anything I can do, any way that I can help you, will you promise to tell me? I would really like that.”

“You already have, Doc.”

Chapter Four

It was the last day of classes. Nathalie had finished her final exam for history a little earlier than several others, and rather than leave as some had done, she just leaned back a little and closed her eyes for a while. It was so strange, sitting here in a classroom, knowing full well that she would never be back. Her friends didn’t know yet. She hadn’t had the courage to say anything. It just seemed so terribly complicated, too complicated to explain. She would have to somehow justify why her parents had shut her off, explain why she wasn’t getting an abortion. So many questions. It was just simpler to say nothing and let word get around next year that she wasn’t coming back.

Still, there were aspects that she would miss. She’d enjoyed the learning, the knowledge. She hadn’t been ambitious for a career, but she’d enjoyed the general studies. Keeping her grades high hadn’t been too much of a struggle for her, but she’d still miss the challenges that happened when new ideas were presented.

And in many ways, she felt as though she were leaving her entire girlhood. She had never thought she’d be a single mother. She’d seen some back home, girls who were around her age, struggling to raise a child on their own. There was such a hardness about their features, as though they blamed the baby for taking away their adolescence. They had seemed so harsh, so full of worry. Now, as her own circumstances continued to swirl around her, she could better understand why they were that way. But with everything in her heart, she didn’t want to take it out on her baby.

She gathered her books, and turned in her exam to the professor, whispering her thanks. She stopped by the bookstore, and sold back the books for a small percentage of what they’d cost. She’d decided that the money would be returned to her parents. They had paid for her books, after all, and it seemed only right. In some way, she hoped that she would be viewed in a better light for it.

That last day was filled with good-byes. Some were said verbally to professors, and to a few friends who lived far away. Most were whispered in her heart, as favorite spots were visited, and pleasant moments remembered.

She rode the bus to the stop in town, reflecting on the day. It hadn’t been sad. Somehow, all those good-byes hadn’t been sad. It was as though those people and that time was passed, and there was a sense of, well, of peace. Strange that in the midst of such uncertainty in her life, she could have peace.

She picked up a few things at the grocery store in town. Nothing heavy, since she’d have to carry it home. For the last few weeks on Saturday, she had borrowed Doc’s car to pick up her groceries, but tonight, she felt the need for something a little extravagant. Her budget had been tight, and she hadn’t allowed herself any luxuries, but this last day of classes called for something special.

She left the store with a loaf of bread and three Cadbury Creme Eggs. They were normally only available in the spring of the year, and they were her weakness. In the past, she hadn’t left any store without buying one, but this year money had been scarce, so this was a treat. She looked forward to going home, curling up on the porch, and watching the waves while nibbling her chocolate.

She spent the evening as she’d planned, without interruption, and the next morning she woke up early, ready to start her job. It was a wonderful May morning, with the sun warming up the ground, and flowers bursting with color along the road. There weren’t a lot of plants that were hardy enough to grow this close to the sea, but the beach houses were filled with people who were willing to pay each year to plant new ones along walkways and on their front lawns. They wanted the best of both worlds, it seemed.

Rather than go around back, Nathalie walked in the front door at Doc’s house. She was greeted by Oliver, who, after acknowledging her presence, immediately returned to his sunspot on the porch. The aroma of fresh coffee invited her into the kitchen, where she found the elderly man in the middle of eating his breakfast. When he saw her, he moved as though to get up.

“No, no. Sit down. I’m here a bit early, I see,” she said, going to the cupboard to get a mug. “Do you mind if I join you? You can tell me where you’d like me to start today.”

“By all means,” he said, seating himself again. “I do enjoy your company.”

She poured herself some coffee, pushing her purse to the far end of the breakfast table. She took the seat across from him, checking out the day’s headlines on the small-town newspaper that was spread out around him.

“Anything interesting?”

He shook his head. “Not really. The town is still trying to figure out what it’s going to do about paying for that new firetruck. It still doesn’t make sense that we had to have a brand-new one when a used one will work just fine. We’re a small town, Nathalie, and we just don’t need such a large engine.”

She smiled to herself. In her hometown, things like firetrucks and school budgets just didn’t seem to be as personal as they were here. But then, this town of 7,000 people were practically family, literally, with first, second, and third cousins living in the same town more often than not.

He put down the paper. “So, yesterday was the last day of classes for you. How did it go?” He was looking right at her, in a way Nathalie was beginning to learn meant his complete attention was on what she had to say. Such obvious attention still made her nervous and a little fidgety, but she tried to be honest.

“It was okay. I said good-bye to a few people, but I didn’t feel sad. It didn’t really make a lot of sense.” She shrugged.

Doc nodded. “When the change is for the good, then it’s not sad to say good-bye. Sometimes, it’s sad to know that the memories are all that’s left, but even that doesn’t mean that we miss the way things were.”

“That’s how I felt. I know that a lot of things are changing. Pretty much everything is. But, even though I’m scared sometimes, I’m okay with it. I think I am anyway.” She got up with a smile. “So, where do you want me to start today?”

“How about the living room? It hasn’t had a thorough cleaning since my wife died, and I’m sure it could use it.” Doc stood up then, picking up the paper and clearing his dishes. “I’m going to be going over to the diner now. I’ll be there for an hour or two.”

Nathalie gave him a funny look, pointing to the dishes he was taking to the sink. “Didn’t you just have breakfast?”

“Oh yes, my dear. But every day around this time I go down for coffee with a few of the men from around town.”

She remembered then, that first time she’d gone to the diner. Gina had mentioned that the table of locals came in nearly every day. “Well, have a good time.”

He left soon after, and Nathalie did up the dishes. She was glad that she’d had those few weeks to get to know Doc and his house. It made it easier, knowing where things went. She found some cleaning supplies, making a note that certain ones were missing. With that, she made her way to the living room, ready to clean from the ceiling to the floor.

She worked non-stop for the next two hours, and by the time Doc got back, she was mopping the wood floor. The curtains were down, ready to be taken to the cleaners, but other than that, everything was back in its place. It was an exceptional job, and he couldn’t help but notice it. Yes, he was glad that he’d hired her. It felt good to have such a clean room again.

He went into the kitchen after taking off his jacket and hat. May was still a bit chilly on the coast, and he wore his light jacket well into the summer. He went out to the porch, finding Oliver curled up on the chair in the sun. He laid his hand on him, amazed at how warm he was. Chuckling to himself, he remembered back to when he and Lucy had bought this little guy, back seven years ago. They had wanted a dog, and finally, after much deliberation, decided on a cocker spaniel. They’d gone to several breeders, looking for that perfect puppy, but hadn’t seen anything that caught their interest. When a friend had heard of their quest, she had told them to contact a friend of hers that might have what they were looking for: a small dog that required minimal care, but was very intelligent and friendly. If he were to be completely honest with himself, he’d have to admit that at first sight of the pug puppies, he had considered them the homeliest creatures he’d ever seen. Lucy had fallen in love, however. She had cooed over and cuddled each one, finally choosing Oliver. Doc had never been able to deny his wife anything, and they had paid for the pup on the spot, bringing him home a week later.

Their house had been a quiet one until Oliver had arrived. Their daughters were grown now, with children of their own, and although they enjoyed visiting, they all lived too far away to come often. With Oliver, then, had come much laughter and some frustration. Lucy had started to show him when he was two, and for a year they traveled all over Maine for shows. She’d started to get sick toward the end, and they had pulled out, staying close to home, until cancer took her a few months later.

For some reason, those memories came flooding back to Doc as he sat on the porch that day. It didn’t hurt so much anymore. He still missed his wife, terribly. He didn’t know that he’d ever really stop. They’d been married for forty-nine years when she died, and no one on earth knew him like she did. They’d been through some pretty tough times, and they had loved each other more with every passing year.

The swing creaked as he rocked, but he barely noticed anymore. He sat by his dog and remembered for a while.

Around noon, Nathalie came out. She leaned in the doorway. “Well, the living room is done. I’ll need to get the drapes to the cleaners, but that’s about it. What would you like me to make for lunch?”

Doc tilted his head a bit, still looking out to sea. “Sandwiches all right with you? That’s about all I’m up for. But make yourself a good lunch. Fruit, milk. You need to get your nutrition, okay?”

She smiled, and turned back inside.

Lunch was ready in just a few minutes, and she brought their plates outside. She took her favorite chair by the swing, and curled up in it, balancing her full plate, and putting her glass on the floor. They ate in silence, each wrapped up in their own thoughts. With the waves on the beach, however, it wasn’t uncomfortable. Doc lived pretty close to other houses, and the voices of the kids next door could be heard. Somehow it made memories seem closer, just having those ambient noises.

When they were through, she took the plates into the kitchen, ready to tackle another cleaning project. This room looked as though it too could use a good scrubbing, and she set to work, first on the dishes, and then on the cabinets. It felt good to work hard on something. It kept complicated emotions and thoughts at bay.

It took another three hours to finish the kitchen, and by then, Doc came in to say that she was welcome to go home at any time. He had decided that she would only work until 3, 4 at the latest. Nathalie had gathered her things, put everything to rights, and then left, feeling a bit in the way all of a sudden.

She walked home slowly. It hadn’t gone quite as she thought it would. She’d been alone for much of the day, and when Doc had been there, he’d been almost completely silent. It was so unlike what she had come to know him as, that she really didn’t know what to do with it. They had talked about her coming to work for him many times, and each time, he’d seemed excited about the prospect, saying how good it would be to have company again.

By the time she reached her own house, she was bone tired. Working that hard was unusual for her, and her body was letting her know. She made herself something easy for dinner, not having much strength left to put something more elaborate together. She ate at the table in the dining area, next to the bay window. The sea was putting on a wonderful show tonight, and after she was finished, she just sat there, watching. As the sun went down, she made herself a cup of tea, and, taking a blanket from the couch, sat on the back steps.

Her thoughts came again. She’d been able to keep them away all day, but they were back now, full force. She still hadn’t been to see a doctor, but she could do the math. She figured the baby would be due sometime in January. This being only May, that left seven months to get ready for this little one.

About then, she felt her brain shut down. She was tired of thinking, racking her brain for solutions to her situation. For the first time, she considered just giving up. It wasn’t easy being alone, and she was more alone now then she’d ever been in her life, which was saying a lot. Growing up, she’d been a pretty quiet child, without many friends, and pretty wary of adults on the whole. Upon reaching high school, that didn’t change much, mostly because her parents were there, always present to tell her where she could and couldn’t go. More often than not, she took walks by herself or found a good book to read. She could sit for hours in one spot, with nothing to do, all alone.

But tonight on the beach, she was lonely. In all of her thoughts, her future had loomed as the one thing that she could control. It’s why she had come to Maine in the first place. She’d needed to get away from her home, and college was her way out. With the beach house, she had her own place, somewhere she could retreat to.

Her friends at school were great, and they’d had fun together, but deep inside, Nathalie was still a loner. Personal things were rarely shared, and not living on campus contributed to that.
As she sat there on the steps, curled up in her blanket, she prayed for the first time. It wasn’t a big prayer, but coming from one who was convinced that God wasn’t interested in her tiny problems, it was momentous.

“God, please send me friends."

Chapter Five

Nathalie slept in the next morning. She and Doc had decided that she would be going over Monday, Wednesday and Friday, giving herself a day in between each to rest up and do the things she would need to do. But with everything changing so suddenly, she hadn’t had the time to actually get a routine yet. So there were no plans for today.

After a late breakfast, she picked up a book that she’d gotten from Doc on pregnancy. Now seemed as good a time as any to read up on it, and since it was a sunny day, she opted to read outside. She took her book and a blanket, and headed down to the beach.

She read undisturbed for nearly an hour. The gulls screamed overhead, and there were distant sounds of children playing. She laid down her book, and watched several sail boats make their way back and forth. The smell of salt was heavy, and the breeze was cool.

The nearest house was about fifty feet away, and she watched as an elderly lady made her way out her back door, struggling to carry a folding chair out to the sand. Without a thought, she ran over to help her, afraid that the lady would fall before she got there.

“Oh, thank-you so much dear,” the woman said, breathing hard. She looked to be about seventy, and was wrapped in a pretty, old-fashioned knit shawl. “I know I shouldn’t carry those things, but it’s such a lovely day, and I wanted to be out, really out in it. Not just sitting on my porch.”

Nathalie nodded. “I completely understand. It’s beautiful out. Still, this seems awfully bulky for you to carry.”

“Well, my dear. I’m not carrying it now, am I?” and with a wink, she led Nathalie to a spot closer to the water.

The lady settled into her chair, arranging her shawl as she did so. “I am Mrs. Gadapee. Who are you?”

Her straight forward manner caught Nathalie off-guard. “I’m Nathalie Verone. Nice to meet you.”

She gave a curt nod. “Where did you come from? Have I seen you before?”

Nathalie pointed toward her house. “I live over there. I’ve been living there for almost a year now. Well, nine months really. I was going to the college.”

The lady nodded again. “That explains it.” She looked out at the water for a time, then said, “I think I remember you now. Wasn’t there a young man living here also?”

The girl’s heart clutched. “Yes. He moved out about a month ago.” Her voice was decidedly hushed, and Mrs. Gadapee caught it.

“Well, young lady, I’m very glad to make your acquaintance. It’s always nice to know your neighbors.” She looked at her new friend with a smile.
Nathalie asked if she would like some company, and then went to get her own chair to join her.

“So, what are you doing, now that the school year is out?” Mrs. Gadapee asked.

“I’m working a few days a week for Doc Henry, just down the road a bit. I clean for him and shop too, I suppose. I’m really not sure. I started yesterday.”

“I’ve known Doc for years. He’s a very decent sort of man. But that garish dog of his. Honestly, creatures like that ought to be drowned!”

Nathalie let out a sudden laugh at thethought of what Doc would have said if he’d heard. “Actually, I’ve grown rather fond of him. He’s got a very good personality.”

“Dear, that’s what people say about ugly things. ‘It’s got character.’ Ridiculous. They only say that because they know full well that their beloved creature is too homely for words, and they desperately want others to overlook that fact. I’m telling you, that animal is not a dog.”

Nathalie decided that it was probably time to steer the conversation away from such a strange topic.

“How about you. What do you do with your time?”

“I am part of the Women’s Club in town, and we meet every third Tuesday. On Fridays, a group of us meet for bridge. And every other Wednesday night, I play at the Moose Lodge for their Bingo night.”

“They have music on Bingo night?”

“Well, it’s not a part of the game itself. I play during their cocktail time, when the bar is serving. The game starts at seven.”

“Do you play?”

“Not anymore. I was always such a terrible player that I lost more money than I ever spent, but Charlie was wonderful. He always took home at least fifty dollars, and he didn’t cheat either! I know what you’re thinking. But after he died, it seemed rather silly to keep on playing, just losing money. It’s not as though I have money to burn, you know.”

“Of course.”

“Still, I do enjoy the piano. It’s always delightful to play for an audience. I haven’t truly performed in years.”

Nathalie was getting caught up in this woman’s life. “You did? Where?”

“Oh, around the area. I played at weddings and funerals. Graduations were always very good money makers. Once, I even accompanied George Montel, at the City Hall in Portland.”

Nathalie had no idea who she was talking about, but she could see that the lady wanted to impress her. “That’s wonderful. It must have been very special.”

“Oh it was. George was a wonderful person. Don’t listen to what anyone else tells you. He was very generous and kind.”

She nodded, hoping that she wouldn’t be asked any questions about his work.

Mrs. Gadapee glanced over at her. “So, what are you majoring in?”

Oh, here we go, she thought. I might as well tell her now, as opposed to later. “I’m not going back.”

“Not going back!?” She sat up in her chair, the shawl slipping off her shoulders. “What on earth could possibly have possessed you to do that?”

Nathalie shifted a little uneasily in her seat. This was not the kind of conversation she was hoping to have with this woman. It seemed as though it was far too personal to discuss with an almost-stranger. The old lady was not going to budge though, so Nathalie prepared herself for the worst.

“I’m pregnant, and my parents will not be paying for my schooling any longer.”

“In this day and age? Didn’t you children use protection or some such nonsense? Honestly, what do they teach them in schools these days.”

This woman was succeeding in ripping apart all of the girl’s stereotypes. She really didn’t know how to take her. Was she upset because she’d gotten pregnant, or because she’d had sex outside of marriage? Was the real issue her education, or the fact that she was going to be a mother at the age of nineteen?

They were quiet for a while, until finally the widow looked at the pregnant young woman, and said, “Forgive me dear. Even now, at the age of eighty-five, I still have a hard time keeping a rein on my tongue. I’m sure everything will be fine. And as for school, well, if you want to return, there are always ways to do that.” She reached out as she said that, and patted Nathalie’s hand.

And for the second time in two months, Nathalie felt loved and accepted.

Chapter Six

“Good morning, Doc,” Nathalie called as she walked into his house the next morning. “Nathalie, I’m out on the porch. Come on through,” he answered.

She laid down her bag and coat, and passed through the kitchen. The day was overcast, causing the ocean to look steely gray. Doc laid down the book he was reading as he turned toward her.

“Before you start today, I feel that I owe you an apology for the way I acted yesterday...I mean the day before yesterday. I am so sorry. I wasn’t quite myself...” He seemed to drift off, even as he was talking.

She shook her head. “No, Doc, I was fine. Believe me, I barely noticed. Think nothing of it.”

“Nathalie.” He motioned to a chair with his hand. “Please sit down. Now, you must understand, it is very important to me that you understand this. Wednesday I treated you badly. Maybe not horribly, but certainly not right. I was having a difficult time, memories of my wife and all. There are times, my dear, when they seem to flood me. Though it’s been four years now, I still have days when I struggle to simply breathe here without her. She was my dearest and closest friend, and although I know that I shall see her once again, still, I have hard days. Wednesday was one of them.”

She tried again to make excuses for him, explaining that it was really all right, and she knew that he hadn’t meant anything by it, but he was insistent.

“Young lady, I ask your forgiveness, which you find difficult to believe I need. That’s fine, but know that I will not treat you like that again. If I am having a hard day, I will tell you on the outset, and we will work together at helping me through, all right?”

She nodded. “I would be honored.”

They discussed the plans for the day then. Doc had shopping that needed to be done in town, and a few errands to run, so after the dishes were washed, and the kitchen set to rights, the two drove into the village together.

As they walked the aisles of the grocery store, Nathalie mentioned to him that she’d met her neighbor. Doc smiled and shook his head.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked.

“Only that I’ve known that woman almost as long as I’ve known myself, and she is, shall we say, independent. I’ve had several discussions with her in the past, and she never ceases to amuse me with her insistence that she does not need anyone.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard you say anything quite like that. You’re almost laughing at her!”

“Nathalie, Edith Gadapee is a very dear woman. But my, doesn’t she know how to spit fire!” He chuckled then, and changed the subject. “Have you read any of the books that I lent you?”

“Yes, I started one yesterday, when I met Mrs. Gadapee.”

He looked at her quizzically. “Are you scared?”

“No...well, maybe a little. Actually, a lot. I’m going through this pretty much alone. I mean, it’s not like the father is here. There’s no one around to share things with. And I have no idea what labor is going to be like. I try not to think about it, but there doesn’t seem to be any help for it. The thoughts just keep coming, and I can feel myself getting eaten up with worry. I am very glad that I started working. I feel like now at least I’m doing something, making my situation better, maybe. I hate just waiting for something to happen.” She shocked herself. She hadn’t opened up that much to anyone in all her life, and then to do it in a supermarket seemed even stranger. She could feel her face begin to heat up.

Doc turned to look at her. “Young lady, there is no call for embarrassment. I haven’t met a mother yet who wasn’t scared at the idea of delivery and motherhood as a whole.” He patted her shoulder. “Thank-you for telling me. I shall be praying for you.”

They didn’t talk about anything personal for the rest of the day. Somehow, Doc must have sensed that she was pretty uneasy at revealing so much of her thoughts, and he didn’t push. But her mind was churning over something he’d said. Over and over it came back, all through the rest of the shopping and lunch, until finally, a few minutes before she left, she asked him about it.

“Doc.” She was out on the porch, ready to say good-bye, but she just couldn’t go until she understood something. She felt ready to burst.

“Oh Nathalie. Ready to go home? Well, thank-you so much for the day, we-” He stopped mid-sentence. It was suddenly obvious that something was on her mind. “What is it? Come in and sit down.”

Anxiety and nervousness came in waves, and she sat in the chair, fidgeting with the edge of her jacket. She took a deep breath, and plunged in. “What you said at the store. I don’t think I understand what you mean. Well, I mean, I know what you mean, but I don’t know-oh man, I didn’t think it would be this hard.”

“Nathalie, I have no idea what you could be talking about, but take your time. I am in no hurry.” He sat back on the swing, and ran his hand down Oliver’s back. That took Nathalie’s attention off of her nervousness, and when the dog let out a long sigh, she was able to smile.

Still looking at the dog, she asked, “ What did you mean when you said you’d pray for me? Does it have to do with the fact that I’m not married? I mean, are you going to pray that God forgives me or that he punishes me?”

Oh my Lord, Doc thought, I don’t know how much of this my poor old heart can take. Does she really think of you that way? Of me? Help me please, to bring comfort to this little one.
Outwardly, he showed no sign of the shock he was feeling. He waited a few minutes, knowing that this young lady would not leave until she had an answer, and pretty certain that he didn’t know how best to give it. Finally, he looked at her.

“Nathalie, I have no idea what you were taught about God or how you think he cares about people. But I know without a doubt that he loves you and cares for you. He does not want to hurt you or punish you. He’s not waiting with a big stick whenever you make a mistake.”

She sat back in her chair, and watched the ocean. Through the filter of hurt and distrust, she had heard his words and taken them for what she understood them for. God didn’t want to hurt her, but she had put Him in a position where He had to. He hadn’t killed her yet, but that was only because He cared enough about her to give her another chance. She determined that she would make it up to Him. She would prove that He hadn’t been wrong to spare her life. She’d be good to everyone she could, and try as hard as she could not to displease Him again.

Doc watched her from the swing, fairly certain that she hadn’t really heard what he’d said. Again his heart broke, and he prayed for her again. Perhaps it was God’s timing that she had met Mrs. Gadapee just now. Having known the lady nearly all his life, he knew that she would understand the pain in this young one’s heart, and perhaps find some way to help her.

Nathalie left soon after, walking home and making several vows to herself and to God. As she headed up the steps to the front porch, she glanced over at Mrs. Gadapee’s just in time to see that lady struggle to her own door with her arms full of groceries. Her own worries and concerns forgotten, Nathalie ran toward her, calling, “ Mrs. Gadapee, what are you doing? Wait, I’m coming!”

The elderly woman looked up at her with a trace of chagrin on her face, as though she’d been caught doing something that was slightly illegal. Nathalie managed to give her an appropriately disproving look, which was instantly rebuffed.

“Don’t look at me like that! What was I supposed to do, just leave them in the car until someone came by that had nothing better to do than carry my bags of groceries in? Really, I’m not dead, Nathalie, and until I am, I can take care of myself!”

Nathalie’s expression didn’t change a bit.

“Well, since you’re here now, take these. There’s a dear. I’ll get the door for you.” Nathalie couldn’t help but smile at the way Mrs. Gadapee had handled her, and followed her into the porch and through the foyer, into the kitchen. Putting the bags on the counter, she turned and asked, “Would you like me to put these away for you?”

Mrs. Gadapee wouldn’t hear of it. “As if I would allow someone else to put my groceries away. I am quite capable of doing this on my own, you know. Carrying the bags is a bit heavy, I grant you, but putting away groceries is no strain whatsoever.” She moved to the counter then, her back to Nathalie and opened the tops of the bags, checking what each one held. She peeked over her shoulder at the young woman behind her. “I wouldn’t mind company, however. Unless you need to get home right off.”

Nathalie could only smile and sigh. For someone who insisted that she didn’t need anyone’s help, Mrs. Gadapee seemed to be mostly bluff. She took her jacket off and laid it on a chair, then managed to help her hostess as much as she could without looking like she was helping.

The End

Copyright 2014